Sallying he went, the sky over his head bickering with storm clouds. Overhead ahead he saw a gull, its wings riotously flapping, the turbulent twilight coil whitewashing the heavens bone-pale. It had been days since he’d last seen the harridan or her sister; or the alms man, who rarely if ever took a break from his lamming. ‘Must be something in the air’ he thought, ‘or I’m losing my eyesight; either way something strange is afoot, strange indeed’. He couldn’t recall the last time he looked under a big fat lady’s skirts, or the last time he got anyone’s attention other than his own. You could scream and roar but no one ever paid attention or turned an ear. You could get on all-fours or lay flat on your back, no skirt was there to look under or ear to turn. Legion of Christ! Magdalena Mary and Eve! His grandfather wore the same gum-soled galoshes to work every day, drying them upside down, the toe-box facing up. The other men made fun of him, cajoling him whenever he passed by. The head hand threw gut coils and trotter at him, laughing until his own belly fell open, his insides turning out onto the slaughterhouse floor. And for a pound Sterling more, She’ll stick her tongue in your ear. He threw himself into the day like a dog hit by a truck, his head skipping along the pavement like a wooden block. His da told him to stay clear of the bumboats ‘full of whores, stockpiled to the gunnels... and scalp lice bigger than your head‘. They got down on all-fours, Leopold J Dillon kneeling on top of the Witness’ father; the fat lady hiking her skirt round her hips, PK Purcell cracking a barrel, his hair combed and parted down the middle. ‘It’ll be a cold day in hell before I lay down two-quid Sterling on a two-bit whore’. The bumboats unload then set back out to sea, keel-hulls weighed heavy with spiced rum and ham trotter. He was mistaken for a whore’s pimp and beaten to a bloodthirsty pulp.
The quays were run by brigands of hard-nosed thugs, lowlife muggers and pickpockets, each meting out their own form of justice. His great uncle Jim refused to eat anything green, saying green was made from blue and yellow and not a real colour like red or black. The bastard never gave me a damn red penny. No one liked him, not even his own mother. The old cunt. Up and down the cellar seeing to her spice garden, prickly pair they were, my granddad and her. Said a man’s a man only when he can drive a nail through his hand without flinching. A nail for Christ’s sake. Mary and Joseph! Leopold J Dillon, chewer of prepuces drew the brim of his hat over his shady eyes and exclaimed ‘Mary and Joseph! Down on all-fours without a care in the world... a miserable sorry sight indeed! The nerve of her... flapping all out like a common whore’. Stockpiled to the gunnels the Legions of Christ set sail, a Mabbot Lane whore hanging lifeless off the portside gibbet, the first-mate saluting the gunny-side mortar.
He kept his personables’ in a pouncet-box: three shirts, two pairs of trousers, five hats, three panamas, two trilbies and a sou'wester, a canvas belt, buckleless, and a tin of Muskoxen plug. For the love of Leopold and Mary a nail for God’s sake! His great uncle bought his plug from a pug-nosed shopkeeper with a blind one-eye dog and a tailless cat. Up and down the cellar he went fetching tins of half-peaches and sweetmeat rolls, his coattails wagging airlessly behind him. This was not the first time he’d mistaken a half-peach for a sweetmeat, selling a half-tin of sweet-peaches to a lady who wanted a half-pint of sweetmeat filling. He dragged the pouncet-box scrappily across the deck, leaving a trail of nicks in the dark wood. He bit off a quid of Muskoxen plug, pinching it against his cheek with the tip of his tongue. Using his back teeth as a gristmill (his molars grinding the plug into oily shreds) he chewed and chewed, a thread of tar-black juice drooling down his chin. He remembered the farmers’ trucks, the drivers’-side doors latticed with black chaw spit, arms out the window, shirt sleeves rustling like corn husks in the late August breeze that came off the mustard fields like an Egyptian sirocco.